Nativity plays and carol services trump commercialism every time

Far from the madding crowd … a proper refuge on the Norfolk coast at Thornham as festive fever rules

Far from the madding crowd … a proper refuge on the Norfolk coast at Thornham as festive fever rules inland - Credit: Archant

Keith Skipper says 'tis the season to be jolly, not greedy

A good shiver at the end of November and another one to start December – 'all of a dudder' is the proper Norfolk summary – helped prepare me for a few ho-ho-ho-home truths regarding our Great Season of Too Much.

We sorely need antidotes to mayhem in the mall, staggering round the stores and cracking up in the crush. There has to be more to this than excessive spending, scowling, shoving and sighing.

It starts as soon as the corn harvest has been safely gathered in. We scoff every year at such indecent haste – and then get swept along on a massive tide of commercialism.

We gorge and slurp, snooze and burp, play hunt the television remote control and give thanks for priceless traditions like shrill adverts for sun-kissed holidays and even more bumper sales bargains along with Christmas teatime moans about no-one being hungry.

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There's something uncannily predictable about something so eagerly awaited.

So how can the jaded spirit revive, find a dash of that old yuletide magic to banish dark powers of cynicism and incessant selling? Well, a little abstinence can make the Christmas heart grow fonder.

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And I don't just mean laying off the sherry and mince pies until Santa steals his heart-warming way from the promised land.

There's no overwhelming reason why a blessed campaign built around giving and receiving should not be confined to about three weeks. Plenty long enough for wallets to empty, hearts to fill and turkeys to wonder why they are getting so many affectionate looks.

For a start, it leaves respectable space to mark harvest festivals, Michaelmas and the start of autumn, Trafalgar Day, Halloween, Bonfire Night, end of British Summer Time, Remembrance Sunday, St Andrew's celebrations and the annual meeting of Friends Of Norfolk Dialect.

Once they've all been suitably recognised, peace, goodwill and this year's must-have adornments can be unleashed on a panting public.

I recall making a seasonal stand during my full-time broadcasting days, refusing to mention Christmas or anything about it until the first day of December. Any Dinnertime Show visitor who let slip the C word before time was invited to pay a forfeit in the shape of a small donation to Children in Need. One year netted nearly £300.

A concentrated Christmas might not suit manufacturers, suppliers, stores and advertising sages well versed in carolling for customers even while combine harvesters charge through golden acres. Those given to impulsive present-buying on any leg of the December to January journey would complain about their human rights and retail therapy instincts being undermined by festive fundamentalists

I do realise an optimist is someone who sets aside a whole afternoon for Christmas shopping, all too often purchasing this year's gifts with next year's money. There's no excuse, however, for hordes of nervous novices wandering up and down the aisles from September, barking into mobile phones for instructions from loved ones ready to spoil their own surprises.

It's almost enough to conjure up the puckish ghost of a country mawther I encountered about 60 years ago as she mounted the bus for her annual spree in Dereham. She addressed the gathering thus: 'Here we go agin … spendin' munny we hent got on things they wunt want fer people we dunt like!'. Hers were the heaviest bags on the trip back.

Whatever the time frame and however strong the urge to dismiss the whole business as a barmy commercial frenzy, there must be room to stand back and accept three stirring ways of finding an uncluttered path to the sort of Christmas worth celebrating – listening, longing and laughing.

If you can't get to a nativity play or carol service, tune in to a relative, friend or neighbour and share their longing for some qualities of the old-style festive season.

Chances are you'll laugh at a simple faith in nostalgia and tell each other stories that improve with every airing as the bells of togetherness peal out.

You may also hear this clarion call from American writer Washington Irving, creator of Rip Van Winkle: 'It is, indeed, the season of regenerated feeling, the season for kindling, not merely the fire of hospitality in the hall, but the genial flame of charity in the heart'.

Perhaps those sentiments could be printed on every supermarket entrance, brimming trolley and frantic check-out counter along with any item marked 'Only £499!'.

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